The Smith Family: Continuing To Leverage Familial Bonds

February 7, 2012  |  

While gossip columnists are planting seeds of the power couple’s demise, personal drama doesn’t seem to be slowing down the Smith clan’s family business. Will and Jada Smith recently announced they would venture into the reality show industry with a partnership with Simon Cowell, the executive producer behind X Factor and America’s Got Talent. The Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment along with SYCO Entertainment and Sony Pictures Televisions will launch a reality competition series searching for the world’s best DJ. The production companies will launch the format, which is expected to be shopped internationally and domestically.

After almost 15 years of marriage, it’s no surprise that some are wondering when the couple will fizzle. Their union has lasted an eternity by Hollywood standards and if there has been any trouble in paradise, it hasn’t made its way to credible headlines. Tabloids and blogs have been speculating about a pending divorce since August, citing everything from on-set romances to disputes over how to manage their children’s career. In addition to its newest venture, Overbrook Entertainment manages the careers and projects of Will and Jada as well as their rising star offspring, Jaden and Willow Smith.

Managing a relationship where professional and personal interests overlap, as Will and Jada’s does, is a challenge. Thus far, the Smiths have managed to make it look easy. But, regardless of the state of this Hollywood marriage, managing a family business is no easy task.

Statistics show that fewer than 30 percent of family businesses survive to the second generation, and just 10 percent make it to the third. This may sound discouraging, but keep in mind those are far better odds than the average small business. Family businesses have an advantage over the competition, because tight-knit management and invested employees are the key to a successful, resilient company.

The main cause of issues in a family business is when interests don’t align. Whether it’s the interest of one family member not aligning with another or interests of the entire family not aligning with the interests of the business.  A few proactive steps can be taken to quell these issues before they impact your success:

  • Set Rules – Rules are just as important in business as they are in a home. A start-up usually requires a business plan and mission statement. A family business might not require these formal documents; however, drafting agreements and expectations will prevent confusion about the vision and direction of the business.
  • Plan for the Future – Long-term planning must be considered before the business is launched. This is a way to make sure everyone’s vision for the business is aligned.  The more detail, the better. This is especially beneficial when going into business with a significant other. Think of it as a business prenuptial agreement. Document what is expected of each person and how profits and losses will be divided.
  • Define Roles and Relationships – A simple job description defining what each person does in the business can go a long way in preventing confusion and friction. Family relationships will have an impact on the office. There is no getting around it. But, having job descriptions and setting aside time for business meetings instead of talking shop over the dinner table keeps the line between personal and professional from blurring.

Running a family business can be hard, but it can have great rewards. Leveraging the power of familial bonds has proved to be a successful business strategy, and not just for the Smith clan. Samsung, Ford, Wal-Mart, and the Trump Organization all started as family businesses. Your family can easily be next.

Cortney Cleveland is a public relations practitioner and freelance culture & business writer working in New York City. You can follow her on Twitter @CleveInTheCity.

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